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fashionistas

Aldi for fashionistas

Aldi Men's Marl Zipped Hoody (photo: Aldi)
Glamorous advertising, scene 1: Aldi Men’s Marl Zipped Hoody

Aldi Stores Ltd is getting hipper by the month. This summer’s range of menswear fashion wouldn’t be new to Germany, but it is a first in the UK.

As such, it has caught the imagination of the local media, including that bastion of the British middle-class, the Daily Mail.

In addition to buying food staples at the German discount giant, male shoppers can now trendy themselves up with stunningly priced Chino shorts, Oxford shirts, linen trousers, T-shirts, casual padded sandals, summer hats, and zipped hoodies. The rock-bottom prices certainly make competitors such as Marks & Spencer or next look decidedly uncool.

The range went in store on 19th July and was only available while stocks lasted. The tremendous success of this “Specialbuy” is shown by the way our mystery shoppers couldn’t find one item in the English stores they visited at the beginning of last week.

But they also confirmed how the Aldi system tolerates clothing to be merchandised as the day progresses. Any shorts were only in bargain bins, and the display of its popular “Back to School” uniform range looked pretty lacklustre.

So is Aldi winning new customers with its special fashion offers only to turn them off and away once they get there?

Aldi Men's Oxford Shirt (photo: Aldi)
Glamorous advertising, scene 2: Aldi Men’s Oxford Shirt

But let’s start with some praise. When Tony Baines, MD for Corporate Buying at Aldi, claims that this summer’s range “delivers style on a shoestring”, these are no empty words. The Daily Mail has calculated that a similar pair of linen trousers (marketed at Aldi for just £9.99) would be around three times more expensive at next (£30) and twice as dear at Marks & Spencer (£19.50). The other prices are equally hard to match: Chino shorts (£7.99), Oxford shirts (£6.99), marl zipped hoodies (£8.99), T-shirts (£3.99), and summer hats (£2.99).

The Aldi Süd subsidiary has clearly also mastered the art of creating a buzz in the stores via its exciting “Specialbuys”, which have recently ranged from home textiles and DIY lines to motorcycle clothing. Only last summer, the discounter created a sensation by introducing affordable school uniforms that undercut the big multiples by 40 per cent.

The no-frills company with a traditionally utilitarian ethos has obviously had the nous to employ some very creative local PR companies to run its highly effective advertising campaigns. In a particularly clever marketing move, Aldi has also become the first-ever supermarket partner of the GB team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

“If Aldi goes on at this rate,” says Bryan Roberts, director of retail insights at Kantar Retail, “they will soon become more British than the Queen!”

The sum of these measures has helped to make Aldi Britain’s sixth-largest supermarket with a market share of 5.6% (Kantar Worldpanel for the twelve weeks to July 19) and it remains the UK’s fastest growing retailer.

Aldi UK men's fashion? (photo: anon)
Store reality check, scene 1: The everyday life of an Aldi UK bargain bin

So far, so very good, but fashion has always been the final frontier for food retailers, and success has often proved elusive.  Or as Bill Webb, senior lecturer at the London College of Fashion puts it: “Fashion is not synonymous with clothes.”

Classically, fashion is a totally different game from food retailing with far higher gross margins in order to hedge the risk of each new collection. After all, people will always need milk, bread and butter, but they don’t necessarily have to buy your red dresses and short skirts, when the colour of the season is blue and everyone has gone crazy about slacks.

In order to achieve their high margins, fashion retailers have generally a far greater sense of store ambience than their food counterparts and have invested accordingly. Chasing fast stock turns and volume, grocers have frequently turned to the merely functional in order to underline their price message.

But this hasn’t stopped Asda pioneering the “George” fashion brand in its UK hypermarkets or Tesco developing its successful F&F label. “George proved that low-price fashion can work very effectively for a food and non-food grocer, if marketed and zoned in-store effectively as a credible department and brand in its own right,” says Clive Woodger, chairman of the London-based store design and brand consultancy SCG International.

But Asda works with far more floor space than Aldi who isn’t able to offer customers changing cubicles and has to rely instead on a very flexible returns policy.

The odds against discounters succeeding in fashion are generally higher anyway. Whereas a certain percentage of shoppers will accept a Spartan store ambience for demonstrably low prices, when it comes to food or even basic textiles, but fashion items, with their higher emotionality and stronger lifestyle connotations, are particularly difficult to sell in a discount environment.

So why then is Aldi so conspicuously successful? “As consumers increasingly focus on sustainability, those retail brands which offer product quality and longevity at an affordable price are demonstrating the ability to win market share of the clothing sector from the ‘fast fashion’ merchants. In the UK we have brands like Cotton Traders thriving on motorway service stations and garden centres, which have nothing to do with ‘fashion’, but everything to do with product performance and value,” explains Webb.

Aldi UK school uniforms (photo: anon)
Store reality check, scene 2: Aldi UK’s popular school uniforms

For many years now, Germany’s most profitable discounter has sold high-quality, but low-priced clothing. Aldi Süd now offers underwear, sportswear, a variety of jackets, trousers, skirts and shoes as well as business wear all the year round, which also puts the grocer among the top ten German clothes retailers.

If one had to fault Aldi at all, it would be to criticise a brilliantly simple system that delivers cleverly marketed goods in perfect order every morning, only to let them end in the kind of muddle documented in our photo.

At any rate, this store reality is certainly very far away from the glossy advertising leaflets for the Men’s Summer offer kindly provided by London PR company clarion:pdf-1729.pdf

Surely this risks deterring the new middle-class customers drawn to Aldi by such effective advertising from coming again despite the fantastic prices? After all, this wouldn’t be the first retailer in history with a great first act, when it comes to special offers etc., but a poor second one when customers encounter shelf realities. Click Here…

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